By Michael B. Murphy
If fans of the alternative supergroup Tomahawk have concerns about the future of the band after their 2007 misstep “Anonymous” – an album comprised of reworked Native American musical compositions – well, they need not worry.
The band’s fourth LP, “Oddfellows,” sees Tomahawk – comprised of Mike Patton, vocalist of Faith No More, Jesus Lizard guitarist Duane Denison, former Helmet drummer John Stanier and Mr. Bungle bassist Trevor Dunn – return to form with a collection of 13 moody tracks that hearken back to their self-titled 2001 debut.
Album opener and eponymous track “Oddfellows” finds Patton dramatically belting out the lines “They call us odd fellows / We’re dancing on the gallows / Who will judge you tomorrow?” over Stanier’s deliberately robotic drum beats, while Denison’s guitar riffs lunge forward at you like a pissed off, hissing viper. As the song ends in a dizzying crescendo of noodling guitar lines and Patton’s rapid-fire whispers, Tomahawk will have listeners wondering if the band has released its most disturbing and impenetrable album to date.
This would certainly be the case if not for tracks “Typhoon” and “Stone Letter,” the latter of which sounds like it could almost be at home on a Foo Fighters or Queens of the Stone Age album.
While perhaps a bit too aggressive for most mainstream rock listeners’ ears, “Stone Letter” shows Tomahawk embracing Patton’s more pop-friendly vocals from his days in Faith No More, which allows the band to just plain rock out, albeit on their own unconventional terms. This is the most fun the band has ever sounded.
While not as sonically diverse as their second album, 2003’s “Mit Gas,” “Oddfellows” is the bands most cohesive album to date. Every song sounds as if it belongs on the same album – a quality that can’t be said for “Mit Gas.”
“Oddfellows” slithers quietly, yet menacingly, like a mean dog during the tracks “I.O.U.” and “A Thousand Suns” before lurching into a violent seizure of frenzied barked vocals and guttural howls on “White Hats/Black Hats.”
Sometimes, the tempo changes drastically within just one song, like “Rise Up Dirty Waters,” which coasts along quietly with crisp finger-snaps and a bass line that could make itself at home on a jazzy soundtrack inspired by a Mickey Spillane novel. This breezy coolness fails to last when Denison’s propulsive guitar rises above the rhythm section and Patton begins to maniacally sermonize the listener like a possessed pastor who is speaking in tongues.
This back and forth between quiet and loud never abates until the album’s conclusion, but, thankfully, it never veer too far off into either direction.
It’s perhaps Patton and his versatile tool kit of vocal techniques that prevents “Oddfellows” from ever becoming cannibalized by its yin and yanging of tempos and moods. He almost sounds downright happy and playful as the music becomes loud and dangerous, as heard on standout track “Southpaw.” It’s when the mood gets quiet and spacious, like on “Baby Let’s Play,” that Patton’s vocals become their most sinister. In “Bone-dry,” he hauntingly singsongs over the sounds of a disturbed lullaby.
Those looking for a comfortable listening experience should steer clear of Tomahawk’s latest, but those who are up for a challenging rock album should look no further.